Two Lovers and a Bear (2016)

Enter Hemingway, Melville, London … you will like what’s being served at this table. We’ve heard of nature being our indifferent enemy but what to do when that enemy is our own nature. We have not yet begun that process in film and literature, but it’s here in this film … along with a few others through the years.

Two Lovers and a Bear (2016)
R | 1h 36min | Drama, Romance | 16 December 2016 (USA)

Set in a small town near the North Pole where roads lead to nowhere, the story follows Roman (DeHaan) and Lucy (Maslany), two burning souls who come together to make a leap for life and inner peace.
Director: Kim Nguyen
Writer: Kim Nguyen
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Tatiana Maslany, Gordon Pinsent

I almost always love the film when the director also wrote the film. In this case it is Kim Nguyen doing both artistic roles. My hat goes off to him, and I assume he wears a hat also because like me, he is shaved bald. (Gotta love the brother!). I don’t know much about him other than he is known for this and two other films and he is a Canadian: War Witch (2012), Two Lovers and a Bear (2016) and The Marsh (2002). I would put stock in him because this film is something quite different than we are used to seeing. Human v Nature/Human v Self. It’s a gritty psychological drama and God forbid IMDB plot keywords would let us toil in ignorance of these features:

“Plot Keywords: sex on table | sex scene | topless female nudity | female nudity”

Yes, Orphan Black star, Tatiana Maslany, bares her breasts. That’s the easy part of nature no one is too worried about.

All these facts plus the plot basically is two lovers at the North Pole in a barely functioning town. Why they are there is not explicitly mentioned, at least not as much as the breasts are displayed. ;) There is something about an abusive father in her past and he … likes the drink and he likes the hard drink. Sometimes you gotta just go “right now.” Other times maybe your demons are better dealt with by a heater. This couple is fraught with demons and they decide it’s time to go into the snow, into the storm but not without the help of a very helpful? bear. Dane DeHaan seems to like him. BTW DeHaan is there and does a good job as such. Not much more is needed from the, I wonder if he even likes the White Stripes.

This is no family movie. It’s also not a sweet romance, unless you think of Moby Dick as romantic. Having said that, there is a lot to think about romance here, maybe how “not” to support a lover with baggage. For a gritty tale of love? turmoil and t*** on a table, I do recommend.

9/10

Streaming on Amazon video for $3.99

At time of publishing, July 2017, this film is streaming on Netflix.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

In Spider-Man movies there are constants and there are variables. This film is no different from any previous reboot or sequel that way. The variables are basically that, Peter Parker is a junior in high school. He’s in love with Liz, not Mary Jane. There a new villain named Falcon and the entire film revolves around the Avengers and Tony Stark. See, there are some difference even though it’s another Spidey flick.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
PG-13 | 2h 13min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | 7 July 2017 (USA)

Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges.
Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Jonathan Goldstein (screenplay), John Francis Daley (screenplay) | 10 more credits
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

I used to be put off by superhero movies because of the gargantuan budgets they burned up. I’ve recovered from that now. I go into them like a 16 year old kid just wanting to be entertained and you know what I am much much happier! Having said that, just like always, I am in shock about how much money was burned to make this film. No doubt they will make it back, so it’s ok. It is exciting and there is a lot to awe at. The effects alone are worth a ticket. The story is where I struggled. There are a few twists that you may find to be poor-writing as I did. I won’t get into spoilers but they revolve around a certain un-named-here family member of Liz.

The director is known for Cop Car (2015) and was born in 1981. Nothing wrong in being a young director.

The cast is a palette of thousands along with the 12 credited writers. The main three are Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and Robert Downey Jr. Tom Holland reminded me so much of Lee Evans in Mouse Hunt:

You might also remember him from There’s Something About Mary

Holland was great: young, little, eager, wiry. I loved him alongside Naomi Watts’ as her oldest son in the Impossible.

He has come a long way! I don’t know what else to say. There won’t be an Oscar but hey this is Spider-Man, WHO CARES? He kicked ass. Go Holland.

Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Keaton were just themselves playing the roles we are used to from them. No changes or surprises. Notwithstanding, great!

For comic book fans and people just out to have a fun Summer day at the theaters, I recommend this to you. It’s not perfect but I know most will not mind that, I didn’t.

9/10

The Houses October Built (2014)

Whether you believe the found footage or not, it has become a formidable sub-genre of horror that directors are doing more and more with. You don’t have to believe what’s going on here, but it’s a lot more fun if you get sucked in like I did.

The Houses October Built (2014)
Not Rated | 1h 31min | Horror, Thriller | 10 October 2014 (USA)

Five friends are stalked by a group of mysterious and disturbed individuals while on a road trip looking for the ultimate haunted house attraction.
Director: Bobby Roe
Writers: Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe | 4 more credits
Stars: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe

Young people in search of a thrill is usually a recipe for a good time or disaster. Haunted houses, employed by local thrill agencies like carnivals and individuals compete for the scariest locale and company. Apparently, according to this film, it goes on all over the United States just like roller coasters at thrill parks. We also learn they are mixed in their dedication to scares.

The found footage takes the viewer place to place. We learn from the carnies themselves what this job is all about. After all, this film watches a bit like a documentary on haunted house thrill events. Of course, these houses aren’t really haunted are they? It’s a mammoth undertaking trying to make a film like this scary and I will tell you it is quite scary nonetheless. The comic relief of the young people making the “house hops” helps a bit, but the makeup and just plain creepy stuff going on make it just as scary if not scarier than any effective modern horror movie.

Along their trek, they are stalked by truly scary people and there is no scarcity of jump scares. For fans of the found footage genre along with horror fans, I’d recommend it. It is just a bit slow at times, but that may be the nature of the sub-genre. Because it lacks a universal appeal as well, it loses something for me. Now streaming on Netflix (July, 2017)

7/10

Minions

This minions is great as usual for its jokes and slapstick comedy with the world’s funniest tube-like creatures since the Weebles. It’s visually amazing, which one would expect from Illumination pictures but lacks a good story akin to the first Despicable Me film in the series.

Many will argue that a good story doesn’t matter for the Minions to be entertaining. This is mostly true. Perhaps it’s because the film came out running neck and neck with amazing storied films like Inside Out and Home. I wanted to get into the story at least a little bit. I really had no interest in the story of the Minions. It has many holes in it and so much is left unexplained. For example, how long do they live and are these the same ones we see with Gru that are with the T-Rex?

The film works as a set of short films, if taken that way. I think it would have been better to leave out the history and the evil villainess played by Sandra Bullock. Watching the little guys hit and slap each other is fun without any need for an underlying story. The one provided is so fragmented and under-developed, it’s hard to stay focused on the proven comedy of the Minions.

I wanted to say I liked this film more than all the reviewers saying it’s awful. I can’t really recommend it as amazing. This, the slapstick stuff everyone loved is there even in the absence of a decent story. Hopefully animation movie makers will try and get a powerful story along with stunning visuals. They go hand in hand for truly great films.

Cartel Land (2015)

The crowd in a tiny Mexican town called Apo chants, “The people, united, will never be defeated!” They’re following the leadership of Dr. Mireles, their humble doctor of the town. So many of their family members have been killed by the drug cartel, they are heart-sick and defeated. The people are done being pushed around.

Cartel Land (2015)
R | 1h 40min | Documentary | 3 July 2015 (USA)

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman examines the state of the ongoing drug problem along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Director: Matthew Heineman
Stars: Tim Nailer Foley, José Manuel ‘El Doctor’ Mireles, Paco Valencia

This documentary was extremely enlightening about what goes on in one part of a border town in Mexico, and probably many others. You witness first-hand scenes shot with modest camera crews. You don’t see any kill shots but you know they are there between the cuts. The director, Matthew Heineman, has created a powerful set of moving images and sound. We are not shown what to believe about the drug problem but rather given data to make our own conclusions.

This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. You meet these people involved. What’s surprising is that only a few of them have their faces covered. It’s as if they live in a native sense where they can’t comprehend any danger that could come from the media. Their danger is right here.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, it’s a bit fatalistic and I always look for solutions. Having said that, I’ve never lived in this town. They are fighting against these gang-like forces and the government for their very lives. For a raw look at what is happening in this situation, I recommend this film. As of 7/8/2017 it is streaming on Netflix.

9/10

Baby Driver (2017)

This film has done extremely well at the box office. It’s an exciting tale of a young man with an interesting history and an uncanny talent for driving a getaway car. I’d be remiss to not mention there is some great music in the background here.

Baby Driver (2017)
R | 1h 52min | Action, Crime, Music | 28 June 2017 (USA)

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm

The director had this idea for quite some time before it became a film. I always enjoy movies where the director had a long term vision he fought for. Before this film, his accolades include Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013), made with recurrent collaborators Simon Pegg, Nira Park and Nick Frost. While still in the prime of his career, he has proven he is a capable director.

The casting was effective but perhaps one of the weaker aspects. Kevin Spacey sort of worked as the killer boss who grows a heart. We needed more hate for Baby from Jamie Foxx, that could have saved his impression with me. The actor who played “Baby,” Ansel Elgort, is 23 but appears to be much much younger in his skinny jeans and RayBans. I think some younger viewers will identify with his character because he is in fact so young looking and doing such a crafted thing as driving a getaway car. It’s fantasy on so many levels.

I loved the choice to cast Lily James. She is the most normal, well developed, character in the film. And mind you, there is very little character development here: it’s a car chase film.

The story is, in a shortened way, that a boy is an orphan and learns to drive really really well. Then he becomes a getaway driver. Then he wants out and meets a waitress. He doesn’t get out. There are several heists and exhibitions of speed. He gets arrested. The girl dotes on him. The boy gets out. His name is not really Baby (big surprise) it’s Miles and the movie ends in a dreamlike sequence of Miles driving off into the sunset with the girl.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really had fun watching this film. I was actually surprised how much I liked it, the title was a little off-putting. There are lots of car chase movies out there and as time moves forward there are likely to be more. This is a cool movie. I don’t know if it’s as “special” as a lot of people are saying. It is probably because some scenes are synchronized to the music and that is undeniably cool. The story of the protagonist was lacking for me, I didn’t buy in. I didn’t like most the songs chosen and I felt the bad guys were miscast. Those aren’t important issues though, this is a winner film. If you go for a fun car chase and heist film, you’ll get your money’s worth. I recommend it.

7/10

The Devil’s Candy (2015)

Some horror movies are great for a sleep over when you’re in high school but aren’t very deep for discussion. This is one such film. It has creepiness and some jump scares (not too many) and it works on that level. As a serious horror movie however, it doesn’t make my grade. It’s just ok.

The Devil’s Candy (2015)
Not Rated | 1h 19min | Horror | 17 March 2017 (USA)

A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas, in this creepy haunted-house tale.
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Stars: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince

This film is directed by Sean Byrne. He is from Tasmania. He has a strong background making films such as The Loved Ones, a horror movie involving power drills. film shorts and commercials and has received much acclaim for creating this film. Still, it isn’t a massive scale film most young directors hope for. He does show much promise though in this film so I await what he does next with enthusiasm.

Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince are the top three actors in the film and they are a stronger feature than the story in my opinion. Embry is known from films like Sweet Home Alabama. He has that all American boy look but in this film, he is a hessian metalhead, trying to be a good guy but failing. Appleby landed a huge role in the reality series Unreal. She is well cast in this film because her eyes always look scared, stressed, and sad. Pruitt Taylor is from Mississipi Burning. He looks psycho, in this film he is psycho, or possessed or both.

The basic story line here is the possession of a painter who lived in a home. A couple moves in and he comes back seeking the will of the devil who lives in the house. It’s an ok horror movie. IT has some thrills and it;s nice to see these actors’ faces. Because I would not see it again, I’m grading it down to a 6/10 which isn’t failing.

6/10

Following (1998)

Long before Christopher Nolan directed the Dark Knight, he created a sleepy noir film called Following. He definitely has a lot of us following him now and it all started with this first visionary film of his. This is streaming now on Metflix.

Following (1998)
R | 1h 9min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller | 5 November 1999 (UK)

A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell

Plot
This is a film with a very odd beginnng. A man is questioned as to why he follows people and he responds that it is a fixation. He isn’t out to hurt anyone, he just follows people. If that isn’t creepy enough, he does get into stealing and harming people when a criminal he is following decides to teach him his ways. What ensues after that is the meat of this movie.

My Thoughts
The actors are all excellent. I found it more interesting to learn about why he follows people than to see the details of breaking and entering. I think it’s a universal fear that someone would go through our private things when we’re out of the house. The dialog in this film is engaging and draws you in. The characters feel real and you can see how the director went on to be so successful. It is slow however and takes a long time in between “happenings.” For that reason I’d say you could miss it and be okay but fans of the noir genre and of Christopher Nolan will find it delightful as a sort of novelty. I recommend it for those types.

6/10

Across the Universe (2007)

The music of the Beatles is incredible. You tap your foot to it, some people think of it as the best music in the world. What’s more, they hold this view even though the band has been broken up since 1969. This film is visually stunning and equally incredible in its presentation of Beatles songs with a modern take.

Across the Universe (2007)
PG-13 | 2h 13min | Drama, Fantasy, Musical | 12 October 2007 (USA)

The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.
Director: Julie Taymor
Writers: Dick Clement (screenplay), Ian La Frenais (screenplay) | 3 more credits
Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson

Julie Taymor is the director. You may know her directing efforts from films like Frida, the biographical film about the mysterious Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The female lead, Evan Rachel Wood, has been in several successful films which include: The Wrestler and The Ides of March. The male lead, Jim Sturgess also has some big films under his belt with Cloud Atlas and The Best Offer. These two lead us through the music in the film well. It’s like a 2 hour and 13 minute music video. Each song is stitched together in a cohesive story that really works.

Themes of Vietnam and young love are addressed through the music. There isn’t one boring scene. If you love the music of the Beatles this film is for you. If you don’t know their music, this would be a great way to get introduced! It is rather long for movie like this and there are some songs that are interpreted less for the music and more for the dark elements of war. This film isn’t for everyone so that’s why I give it

7/10

Tomorrowland

Disney has been writing new stories with Disneyland as a backstory for years now. The worst that comes to mind is the Haunted Mansion. Tomorrowland falls into the “backstory of Disneyland” category. The trouble here is that people don’t share a concept…

Disney has been writing new stories with Disneyland as a backstory for years now. The worst that comes to mind is the Haunted Mansion. Tomorrowland falls into the “backstory of Disneyland” category. The trouble here is that people don’t share a concept for Tomorrowland. Instead of pushing it aside and making a movie disconnected from the “land” at Disney, to the right at the end of Main Street, They’ve attempted to tell us all the backstory that never was. I think it’s that common insult to Disneyland fans that derails the bus to best picture. They’ve also had mixed success with remakes in the past 2 decades. Having said that, if you can get beyond their puny rationale for what the real life Tomorrowland is, there is a pretty great story here to be enjoyed. So far, the reviews I’ve seen have not been kind to this movie. I have a different take, it’s a pretty great movie. The lofty ideal of hope in movies springs eternal. One of the reasons I love movies is because they often make me feel hopeful.

Tomorrowland gives you a good feeling about the past, present and future. There’s also a personal charge to decide your own fate. These are just a few of the positive messages in the film. If you’re like most people, you’ve read the nasty reviews and seen the low ratings. Don’t pay them any mind. This is a movie for the future citizens of the world. They may have lost points by trying to tie it so closely to Disneyland. It’s slow at times and the characterization is not as good as say: Escape to Witch Mountain. Still, there is a fun “ride” here in the form of a movie. Because they tied it to Disneyland in title and theme, it lost points with me. Never tell a church going person what church is. At the same time, the legions of moviegoers with expired, yellowed Disney passes in their wallets are too strongly connected to the real land. This is one director’s vision and we are all directors. If you can set that aside and see it as its own movie, it’s pretty good. Not excellent but pretty darn good.